The bonanza struck by Tiong Bahru Football Club has spurred calls to review the framework which allows clubs to profit from slot machines. Last year, its revenue of almost $37 million from such machines was greater than the budget of the Football Association of Singapore for the same period. Tiong Bahru, like several other clubs leveraging one-armed bandits, is not in the top-flight S-League. Another example is Sinchi, which last played in the league in 2005 and was reportedly using jackpot money to settle its debts.
The issue is whether jackpot machines should be tolerated outside the casinos, and if so, what social, recreational and sporting objects are worthy enough for clubs to be granted dispensation to milk this form of betting. Framed this way, a flutter with gaming machines is not "harmless fun", as some put it, for adults of a registered society holding a private lottery permit. Rather, all forms of gambling must be seen as capable of generating both useful income and potential social ills. Thus, careful regulation is necessary.
One must ensure gains go to the right hands, and not to illegal bookies, external economic competitors or indeed two-bit club operators. Casinos help to boost tourism and create jobs. The Singapore Totalisator Board channels surpluses from legal forms of betting, as well as the casino entry levy, towards vulnerable groups and other good causes. And betting taxes, which are estimated to form 3.9 per cent of the Government's operating revenue this year, are used for national purposes.
While non-casino gaming machines occupy a small slice of the gambling market, their use should also serve desirable broader purposes. The rationale for this is that lax supervision of gambling could pose dangers like their grip on the young (via pervasive gaming apps, for example), the financial ruin of addiction and its effects on families, and the rise of crimes like loan-sharking.
With these considerations in mind, it's appropriate to review not just slot machines in football clubs but also their wider insinuation into other clubs, many situated close to mass housing. There is no doubt profit-churning machines help to subsidise other operations run by NTUC Club, Safra National Service Association, HomeTeamNS club, Civil Service Club, alumni clubs, country clubs, recreation clubs, and international association clubs. But should the clubs be weaned off an unhealthy dependence on betting money?
Singaporeans have the dubious honour of displaying a high cultural propensity to gamble, according to H2 Gambling Capital, which monitors the global gambling industry. Although the proportion of pathological gamblers here is low - 0.2 per cent in 2014 - and there are measures in place to combat problem gambling, it's proper to keep close tabs on how gambling money is being raised and applied here.